Thursday, March 29, 2012

Disrupting schools - through the content and networks we create

Chapter 5 of Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen is all about using technology to make learning more student-centric.  Christensen writes about the two-stage process with any disruptive innovation:
Stage 1 - the product becomes cheaper and simpler to use (but not necessarily cheaper to produce)
Stage 2 - technological change makes the product simple and easy to build and upgrade.
How can these 2 stages be applied to the way technology will disrupt education?

Christensen believes that platforms are now emerging that will make it simpler to build computer learning products that cater for individual needs of students.  For example it's now easy to use apps such as the iBook Author to create content, it's also easy to create apps themselves.  It's easy to make screencasts and to publish movies on YouTube.  Christensen predicts that these products will be made and adopted by teachers, parents and students in a very decentralized way first of all but that very quickly this will disrupt the traditional system of creating educational materials.  Once teachers can create their own textbooks and apps or find those that have been created and shared by others, they are more in control of the decisions about what to teach and how to teach it.

Christensen discusses 3 business models and shows how education traditionally fits into them:
Solution shops:  these businesses employ experts to diagnose problems and recommend solutions.  They are very dependent on the people who work there, and because each problem needs an individual solution it's hard for these to be standardized.  He gives the example of physicians as a solution shop.  An example in education could be special education teachers who diagnose and support individual students with learning difficulties.  Most students, however, don't experience this individualized approach.
Value-chain businesses:  this is more like the factory model, bringing in different inputs and transforming them into products of greater value.  Generally these involve standardized processes.  Many schools operate in this way, with students joining a class at the start of a year, learning the content and skills for that grade and then moving onto the next grade at the end of the year.  In this system experts create the textbooks which lay out the concepts to be taught and often how to teach them, curriculum experts decide which textbooks to buy, teachers deliver the content to the students and students are assessed on how well they have learned it.  Teacher training institutions reinforce this model as they prepare teachers for this monolithic system. (It amazes me how the young teachers I meet who have come straight from the USA or UK have no experience of actually writing curriculum themselves - they are used to a system that mandates what the curriculum will be and what resources will be used to teach it - as such they often struggle initially with the PYP framework where they have to develop units of inquiry collaboratively.)
Facilitated user networks:  these are services that people exchange with each other, for example telecommunications and insurance.  It is the  network that brings buyers and sellers together.

Although international schools where I've worked don't follow Christensen's 6 step process for developing, adopting and using instructional materials, I do appreciate that in many national systems state schools fit this model exactly.  Starting with textbooks, which represent the content of a subject that students need to know, the books define the key concepts and the sequence in which they are taught.  As mentioned before, the instructional materials are mostly developed by those and taught by those with a dominant intelligence type that is suitable to the subject.  Students learn differently, but up to now it has not really been possible for textbook publishers to develop different books for each different type of intelligence.

The model continues with curriculum experts at schools who make decisions about which programs/books to adopt - again these are often materials that teach to one dominant intelligence in each subject.  These curriculum experts also take into consideration standardized tests - materials that don't prepare students for these often don't get adopted.  Throughout this process students are treated as if they are all the same.  Teachers have only a very limited amount of time to offer individual help to students in this model or to customize what and how they learn.

Bring in technology - the disruptive force in all this.  Unlike textbooks, software can easily have different pathways for different learners and can adapt to the different pace at which students learn.  Christensen sees the possibility of this type of software, but notes that it has often been added into the current system, and is therefore limited by it.  It's becoming more and more common for schools to offer online education, for example if students want to take a course that is not offered at the school - however these courses will probably look very similar to the face-to-face courses already taught.  The real disruption, he argues, will not be from commercially produced software or courses but from user-generated content distributed through the user network.  The tools for this learning are simple and both teachers and students will be able to build products or tutorials that help other students - one example of resources that teachers could use could be the Khan Academy that states on its website:
We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
Using similar sorts of resources, teachers will be able to draw together whole courses based on small modules that others have created and that are basically offered for free.  Different modules can be appropriate for different learners - leading to a truly student-centric approach with each student having access to a virtual tutor.  Students who develop these tools and create content benefit too - studies show that teaching someone to do something is often the best way of learning how to do it - and these students are using their dominant intelligence type to do this, and therefore reaching other students with the same type of intelligence.

Disrupting education will come from the bottom up and I believe, like Christensen, that this will completely transform learning.

Photo Credit:  Face flower by Alice Hardman, 2007   AttributionNo Derivative Works

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Disruptive technology: online and blended learning

Chapter 2 of Clayton Christensen's book "Disrupting Class" outlines what disruptive technologies do to an established market.  The interesting thing to me is that Christensen states that almost all disruptions take root among non-consumers.  He gives several examples of this:  for example before the PC people didn't have computers in their home, before the transistor radio, teenagers didn't have music that they could carry around with them - these things were not replacing anything - they were starting completely new markets.  He writes that in education there has traditionally not been a "non-consumer":
Public education is set up as a public utility, and state laws mandate attendance for virtually everyone.  There was no large, untapped pool of non consumers that new school models could target.
He goes on to look at what has happened in education since computers have been put into schools and how this has led to little change in the way students learn because:
Most products that the ... educational software industry has produced attempt to teach students in the same ways that subjects have traditionally been taught in the classroom.  As a result, they have catered to the intelligence type that has been historically privileged in each subject.
The following chapter goes further to say that the investment in computers has "had little effect on how teachers teach and how students learn" because it had not developed students' intrinsic motivation through student-centric learning.  As I read on I came to see the difference between what Christensen refers to as a sustaining innovation (something that enhances what is already there - on the SAMR model this would be the S and the A) and a disruptive innovation (something which transforms the learning - the M and the R on the SAMR model).  Up to now computers have often simply been sustaining innovations that fit into the existing model of education being delivered in schools - they are seen as a tool to do what has always been done, but not as a way of customizing education to the different intelligences of the students.

Today as I was thinking about the implications of personalized learning, I came across this chart on Twitter by following a link from Edna Sackson to Barbara Bray's Rethinking Learning website (click here if you would like to download a copy of this chart)

Research by Larry Cuban has shown that classroom computers simply "sustain the traditional early childhood school model.  Computers have become just another activity center for children that they can opt to use in the course of the day ... teachers use them to supplement and reinforce the existing teaching model.  As such, computers add cost while failing to revolutionize the classroom experience."  In middle and high schools "teachers still deliver the instruction.  Students use computers primarily for word process, to search the internet for research papers."  He concludes:
In the end ... powerful software and hardware often get used in limited ways to simply maintain rather than transform prevailing instructional practices.
Christensen draws on these studies to write:
Computers have made almost no dent in the most important challenge that they have the potential to crack:  allowing student to learn in ways that correspond with how their brains are wired to learn, thereby migrating to a student-centric classroom ... Schools have crammed the computers into the existing teaching and classroom models.  Teachers have implemented computers ... to sustain their existing practices and pedagogies rather than to displace them.
However things are changing.  Over 10 years ago when I attended the AASSA Conference in Lima, Peru, I attended my first presentation about online learning called "Teach from the Beach" about courses that were being set up.  At the time these were simple computer-based learning classes that allowed students to learn at their own pace and maybe even to choose different ways of covering the material.  Around the same time I also enrolled in a couple of online professional development courses being run by Fieldwork Education in the UK to see for myself what it was like to learn online.   Today more than a million students in the USA are taking online classes and often these courses use software that can help students learn in ways that are consistent with their type of intelligence and learning styles.  Projections are that by 2019 about half of all high school courses will be delivered online.

Last month at ASB Un-Plugged, Brian Chanen presented the R&D Task Force findings about blended and online learning - as it is becoming clear that this is growing fast, the Task Force was asking how ASB could take advantage of it to combine face-to-face teaching with learning online, to extend education beyond the physical walls of the school.  Schools often do offer a limited number of online courses for example in subjects that are less popular, in a student's mother tongue if that language is not taught at the school, or to support a new student who is mid-way through a course that is not offered by the school.  Brian Chanen talked about wanting to extend this opportunity. 

The advantages of online learning, according to Christensen, are accessibility, convenience, simplicity and cost.  Often these courses are more enjoyable because they are more interactive, and therefore students are more motivated and engaged.  He writes that teachers will spend more time helping individual students and that their role will become more of a learning coach or tutor.  Teachers will need different skills in a customized classroom than in the one-size-fits-all one:  they "will have to understand differences in students and be able to provide individual assistance that is complementary to the learning model each student is using."  He estimates that currently in a "monolithic" class, 80% of a teacher's time is spent on preparation, teaching and testing the entire class, with only 20% of the time available for helping students individually.  Online learning will be a disruptive force in education, and many teachers will not be happy with this shift.  However:
This shift in the learning platform, if managed correctly - which means disruptively - is not a threat.  it is an opportunity.  Students will be able to work in the way that comes naturally for them.  Teachers can be learning leaders with time to pay attention to each student. 

Photo Credit:  Hagalund Church, Stockholm by Kah Wai Lin   AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Six Benefits of Classroom Technology in International Schools

A guest post by Heather Smith

You know, it seems like it would be logical that new technology could benefit the classroom learning environment. I mean that kids are so caught up in the latest iPad and iPhone, the newest gaming system, and the best Blu-ray that they frequently ignore school work in favor of playing around online. But what if teachers could grasp this ardent appreciation for technology and bring it into the classroom? What benefits would that bring?

1.     Responsiveness – Kids love to use technology. It has become such a huge part of their lives that to go without is practically anathema. By incorporating technology into education, students’ responsiveness increases. They are interested in learning and become more active learners.

2.     Life skills – Learning how to use technology is not a luxury any more. It is a basic life skill. Kids need to know how to do more than just surf the internet and play video games. Take this opportunity to teach those skills they will have to master at their jobs in the future. Research done online is currently the overwhelming majority. If they don’t know what to look for or how to get to it, though, how can they succeed?

3.     Multitasking – Why teach one thing at a time when you can teach two or three? By using technology as a regular part of the classroom experience you are giving students the opportunity not only to learn History or English, but to also master computer and research skills that will help them in their future educational pursuits.

4.     Filling the cracks – Different children have different learning styles. Some learn better with visual aids, some by hearing, and other by doing. In the classic classroom environment, some of the learners are left out of the experience and thus do not receive the help they need to really understand the subject matter. Technology can change that. By incorporating more than one aspect of learning in a single lesson, all learners can get what they need and be engaged in their learning.

5.     Impaired – Maybe you have the different learners. ADHD children, the disabled or mentally challenged. Technology is a great boon to their learning. There are so many applications and software in cyberspace that are tailored specifically for their needs; whether it be bigger print, more colorful photos, or activity oriented learning. Touch screens are instinctive and intuitive to use and most do not require the muscle control that a mouse or pencil would, a distinct improve over the old pen-and-paper method.

6.     Multiple Languages – If you have multiple languages to teach, then you need technology. How much easier and faster is it to have on-screen translations rather than looking up every word they don’t know. Technology allows the same software to be played in multiple languages, allowing students to have similar experiences in their own language. Whether you are watching a documentary, teaching them how to use programs, or just learning the basics, technology can help students to learn faster and more accurately than ever.
So no matter what subject you teach or what students you have, enabling technology in your classroom can only help your students to learn more and keep what they have learned for longer. If your school does not currently support or under supports, technology in the classroom they need to get with the program. Technology is not the future anymore. It is the present.

Author Bio

Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to become a nanny by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Learning differently - standardized teaching -v- customized learning

Our new professional reading group book is Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen and the first chapter is about how we all learn differently.  Howard Gardner has defined 8 different intelligences - linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, interpersonal and naturalist - however he has a simple definition of what intelligence is:

  • The ability to solve problems that one encounters in real life
  • The ability to generate new problems to solve
  • The ability to make something or offer a service that is valued within one's culture.
We are all blessed with each of the 8 intelligences, though we tend to be strong in only 2 or 3 of them.  As teachers we may be able to recognize some of the stronger intelligences in our students but it's also important to try to encourage the development of all of them.

As well as differences in intelligences, there are also differences in learning styles and in the pace of learning - some people learn things quickly, for others it takes longer.  It was interesting to me to discover at a recent parent conference, that my daughter's way of learning and revising is to write everything down - I was the same when I was her age and studying for my exams and even today I have to write in order to learn.  I'm always in awe of those who can comprehend simply through listening or through visuals.  I was really interested to read in Chapter 1 of Disrupting Class:
A person who learns best with a visual learning style for one type of intelligence - by seeing images or reading text - may not necessarily do well using that same learning style when using another type of intelligence.
He goes on to ask the question:  "If we agree that we learn differently and that students need customized pathways and paces to learn, why do schools standardize the way they teach and the way the test?"  In part, Christensen argues, this is because of the economic pressure on schools to standardize teaching and assessment despite the fact that all students have different needs.  He goes on to write that:
The students who succeed in schools do so largely because their intelligence happens to match the dominant paradigm in use in a particular classroom - or somehow they have found ways to adapt to it.
Partly it is also to do with the sheer size of schools today.  At one time schools were much smaller and local and multi-age classes were full of students with different abilities so teachers had to differentiate and personalize instruction.

Another factor that comes into the equation is that as well as students all having different learning styles, teachers also have different teaching styles and so teach in ways that are compatible with their strengths.  Christensen refers to what happens in classrooms as "reverse magnetic attraction" where similar types of intelligences attract.  This means that students who enjoy the teaching style of a particular teacher tend to excel in those classes, those with different sorts of intelligences may feel excluded.  He goes on to write:
The current educational system - the way it trains teachers, the way it groups students, the way curriculum is designed and the way the school buildings are laid out - is designed for standardization.
In such a situation, how can learning be customized?  Christensen writes that:
Computer based learning is emerging as a disruptive force and a promising opportunity.  The proper use of technology as a platform for learning offers a chance to modularize the system and thereby customize learning ... Student-centric learning opens the door for students to learn in ways that match their intelligence types in the places and at the paces they prefer by combining content in customized sequences ... Teachers can serve as professional learning coaches and content architects to help individual students progress.
One of the joys of working in good international schools is that they are constantly questioning what they do and how they can improve the learning for all students - and because these schools are not tied down by national curriculums or standards so have the flexibility to try new things.  They are providing various forms of PD for teachers so that they are supported in embracing change, they are reflecting on whether multi-age classrooms might provide a more supportive social structure for the students, they are looking at different curricula and are rethinking school design.  I've been lucky to have this experience in the excellent schools where I have worked.  ISA was one of the schools that pioneered both the PYP and the MYP.  While I was there a new campus was built and teachers got involved in the school design.  We were all given amazing PD opportunities.  At NIST my learning continued.  Again the school was going through a building programme and there was a lot of discussion about different designs.  Again, PD was supported and encouraged.  Again my knowledge of best practice in teaching and learning deepened.  My new school, ASB, I believe is going even further.  The R&D task forces are studying and developing new  teaching and learning environments for the 21st century.  In my short visit there, it was clear to see that they absolutely believe that all students learn differently and that they believe in using technology to customize learning.  I'm looking forward to teaching and learning differently myself when I'm there.  I'm counting the weeks (just another 11 now!)

Photo Credit:  colors that reflect joy by Riling Hoxha, 2011 AttributionNo Derivative Works


Motivation is something I think about a lot.  It's one of the 3 words in our school's mission statement and last week as our librarian and I were preparing our presentation on the responsible use of digital media, we talked about this word.  To be successful, students and teachers have to be motivated.  They have to be motivated to learn of course, but also motivated to "do the right thing" at a time when it is often easier, cheaper and faster to do the wrong thing.

I've written a lot about motivation in the past - reflecting on a workshop I did with Dan Pink two years ago, as well as books such as Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn which we are reading for the staff book group.  All the evidence points to the fact that we all do better when we are intrinsically motivated, however that may not be the case with school work.  Clayton Christensen writes:
When there is high extrinsic motivation for someone to learn something, schools' jobs are easier.  They do not have to teach material in an intrinsically motivating way because simply offering the material is enough.  Students will choose to master it because of the extrinsic pressure.  When there is no extrinsic motivation, however, things become trickier.  Schools need to create intrinsically engaging methods for learning.
In support of this argument, he points out that post-war in Japan 4 times as many university students were studying STEM subjects as in the USA, despite the fact that the USA has more than twice the population of Japan - these scientists and engineers were responsible for the fantastic economic gains made by Japan. However as Japan recovered and become even more prosperous than the USA, less students chose to study STEM subjects at university.  Once the extrinsic motivation to become more prosperous had been removed, students wanted to study subjects that were more "fun", or more intrinsically motivating.  This same shift in subject choices has been noticed in other Asian Tiger economies too, such as Singapore and South Korea.

Christensen, in his book Disrupting Class, argues that one way of making schools more intrinsically motivating is to individualize or customize learning.  Technology, of course, can help with this as it can "tailor itself to a student's specific type of intelligence or learning style" however what happens all too often is that new technologies are simply bolted onto the existing curriculum and so have not changed learning very much.  Even in my own school, where I believe in the primary school in any case technology has completely transformed what students are doing and how they are learning, the official line is still that technology is "enhancing" what is happening in the classroom - which to my mind totally misses the point of what actually is going on.

In our ICTL meeting where we were discussing responsible use of digital media, we talked about how "accidental" plagiarism can be avoided.  In the past, after students had read a book in their literature circles, they might have had to write a report about it.  However this year we have introduced them to WeVideo where students can collaboratively edit video in the cloud.  Each group has therefore made their own trailer about the book they have read as a way of persuading the other groups to choose to read it.  We have discussed the "language" of images, the importance of sound and music, as well as the words that students are using.  We have had students work in groups to look at and critique existing book trailers, with each student in the group being responsible for paying attention to either the sound or the images or the words - how well each of these individually support the message. They then worked in these groups to create their own, again with students dividing up the tasks.  All of the resulting book trailers are completely unique and as the task has been redesigned, copying or plagiarism is simply not possible.  This is certainly a good example of how technology has done more than simply "enhance" the curriculum - in the SAMR model we could have had students wordprocess their reports, instead we have first modified the task and then completely redesigned the way the students did it so that they could work together in collaborative groups.  These book trailers will be published on the students' own blogs and will be set up to loop on a TV in the library area - thus amplifying the message and perhaps persuading even more students to read these books.

And getting back to the original subject of this post:  are the students motivated?  You bet they are!

Photo Credit:  Should. Could. Would. Did.  by Jennifer, 2010 Attribution

The meteor is to dinosaurs as technology is to ......

When I was in primary school we were prepared for our 11+ exams (these were the test that decided which secondary school we would end up at).  There were a lot of questions like this:
Kitten is to cat as puppy is to ...... followed by a list of options.

At Learning 2030 last week the sentence was already filled in by Peter Mott, Director of ZIS, as he asked will technology be to schools as the meteor was to the dinosaurs?  Or put another way, will schools as we know them still exist or will they become extinct and be replaced by something else?

In Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin writes about the changes in the newspaper publishing industry.  I can't remember the last time I actually bought a newspaper - though I've picked up a few free ones at our local station.  However I read a lot of news - I probably visit the BBC website several times each day, for example.  The changeover for me, from reading news on paper to reading it on a screen happened very rapidly.  Seth Godin writes that a similar change is about to happen with higher education - the last part of his manifesto is about this and I haven't yet read that far so I'm not going to write about this just yet - but of course I think a lot about changes in university education since I have one child at university now and another going next year and no doubt I'll blog about this too at some stage.

What I'd really like to consider here is the idea of how technology has changed the school yearbook.  Coming from the UK I didn't graduate from high school (that was reserved for universities - at school we just did our exams and disappeared afterwards) and I'd never seen a yearbook until I started at my first international school and I was given the job of supervising it.  I'd taken a year out of teaching at this point and had been working for a biomedical publishing company, so I guess the school thought I'd have some expertise in the area of publishing.  Actually I really enjoyed it.  I took a photography course with the art teacher and together with a group of students we made the yearbook.  I have to say it probably wasn't the most professional yearbook as all the photos were taken and actually developed by the students themselves in the school darkroom.  We typed everything up, stuck photos onto sheets of paper and had students decorate the book themselves and took it down to the local publishing company who printed it for us.  I thought it looked pretty good though and for me the best thing about it was that the students actually created it all by themselves.

A few year later things changed.  I wasn't doing yearbook anymore and it was decided to "outsource" it to  Jostens.  A professional photographer came and took passport sized photos of all the students and many, many pages of the yearbook were taken up with these.  Each child was on a separate photo - before we'd just taken class groups in various interesting and relaxed poses around the school.  It definitely looked more "professional" and the kind of thing you might want to give out to local corporations to show off the school, but somehow the heart and soul seemed to have gone out of it.  We had certain templates and we stuck to those and we didn't take many of the photos (and certainly didn't develop them ourselves as by this time the yearbook had changed from B&W into color).

Technology has changed all this once again.  Now even young students can use sophisticated desktop publishing programmes and can produce wonderful, professional looking yearbooks by themselves.  Last year one of our Pre-K teachers used Blog2Print to turn her class blog into a class yearbook that parents ordered online and had delivered to their homes.  This year maybe she might consider turning it into an app or an eBook, instead of a physical book.  With our internationally mobile families, the idea of a heavy hardback book is probably outdated, especially when you consider the costs of shipping the books from the USA to Switzerland in order to distribute them to families who then have to pack them and ship them off to somewhere else.

To me it's inconceivable that schools can continue the way they are now for much longer.  Technology is certainly very disruptive to the status quo.  As Professor Stephen Heppell would say, technology might lead to the death of education, however I believe, like him, that it will empower the rebirth of learning.

Photo Credit:  Dino-mite by Richard Smallbone 2007 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Day in the Life

Last Friday two IT teachers from another international school in Switzerland came to spend the day with me at my school.  This allowed me to put myself into someone else's shoes and view what I was doing as an outsider. For me I am a bookable resource, just the same way the labs, laptops, cameras and so on are bookable resources.  I share my calendar with the teachers who can see what I'm already doing and book me to help them when it's convenient for them.  Every day for me is different, so it was impossible to predict much ahead of time what these teachers would actually see. This is what they saw:

Skype session with students in India
Grade 2 students have been investigating weather and climate in different places around the world and how this influences daily life as part of their How the World Works unit.  They have already Skyped with students in Romania, Tanzania, South Africa and Thailand - the first session this morning was taken up with another Skype call with students in India.  I went to the Grade 2 classroom and set up my laptop so that it would work with the SMARTboard.  Students were able to come up and ask their questions while other students scribed the answers they received.

Meeting with a Learning Support teacher
After the Skype session with our Grade 2 students, I went to a meeting with one of our Learning Support teachers.  We were looking at different tools that she could use with some of her students.  We discussed using Kidspiration for brainstorming and then turning this into a written outline that could be expanded upon.  We talked about different audio tools that we could use to record students talking and a couple of Web 2.0 tools such as Prezi and Spicy Nodes that could be used for presenting.  I showed her Fotobabble, which she might the able to use with a student who felt anxious when speaking aloud to the class. (Update - this teacher has already taught others in her department how best they can use Kidspiration to support student learning).

Grade 2 investigate food webs
Grade 2 students are starting a new unit of inquiry, Sharing the Planet.  The central idea is:  life within an ecosystem is interdependent and we share a responsibility to preserve its balance.  As we tuned in to this unit we discussed the idea of food webs which involved students explaining the link between producers and consumers,  and between herbivores and carnivores.  We also investigated what happened to plants and animals when they died, and so added decomposers into the food web.  Students were then given the opportunity to use an online tool to create a food web for 1 of 4 different biomes.

Skype session with a teacher in Mozambique
Earlier I had a request from a teacher in Mozambique to Skype to her iPad.  She was running PD for teachers at her school and wanted to show them how to use Skype.  We were going to be the people who Skyped with her teachers to show them the various functions.  Unfortunately although we got a connection, it wasn't possible for the other side to hear us, so we abandoned this session.

Meeting with our Curriculum Coordinator about blogging
After the Skype session, I had a meeting with our curriculum coordinator as she is writing a blog and wanted to add authors and limit who could view it.  We had a short session where we went through how to do these things.

Drop in Lab
On Friday afternoons I always run a session in the IT lab where Grade 4 and Grade 5 students can drop in for extra help, or if they have missed a lesson during the week and want to catch up.  There are often 20 students in this session all doing different things.

Quad Blogging with Grade 4
Students in one class of Grade 4 have been quad blogging with 3 other schools (in the USA, Czech Republic and Thailand).  Last week they booked a session with me where they were writing responses to the comments they had received on their blog posts that week.  I've been using these sessions to reflect on my role as a coach and how I can best support teachers who are blogging with students as a way of improving their reading and writing skills.

Making book trailers with Grade 5
Students in Grade 5 have been making book trailers in collaborative groups using WeVideo.  They were finishing off their book trailers and exporting them to Vimeo.

Making rap music with Grade 4
Finally, at the end of the day, I had a group of Grade 4 students who had composed music on GarageBand and they wanted to add their voices to make a rap song.  We went somewhere quiet where they learned how to do this, and eventually they turned their song into an MP3 to add onto their blogs.

After school we had a TGIF to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, then it was off to ZIS for Learning 2030 - another great PD opportunity.

So, that was my day.  My personal goal this year has been to investigate how I can best support teachers through coaching.  There's certainly a lot to think about after this day!

Photo Credit:  10 by Emi Yañez Attribution 

Cultural Revolution?

Last night I was at our professional book group meeting where we were discussing Curriculum21.  Actually we had so much to discuss in this book that one evening simply wasn't enough.  One of the questions we talked about was this:  what impact have you noticed that social media is having on teaching and learning?  How are you and your students connecting with others?  The video above was shared by our of those present - this movie seems to be updated every year as the statistics in it change very fast.   Social media has changed the way we do things and can change the culture of schools and the way we teach and learn.  Our Grade 4 students are quad blogging, our Grade 1 and 2 students are connecting with others around the world through Skype to investigate climate and the types of homes that are found in different places.  Our Grade 4 and 5 students are working collaboratively using WeVideo to make book trailers and posting their recommendations for other students.  At times it feels like I'm caught up in a cultural revolution.

Today I started to think about these words - cultural revolution - which in the past I've always associated with China in the 1960s.  This was a very different type of revolution.  The Cultural Revolution was an attempt by Mao to impose his authority on the country, to get rid of those who didn't show loyalty, to make scapegoats out of those whom he deemed untrustworthy.  Millions of people were abused and harassed if they didn't toe the party line.  No one was safe from criticism.  Those with the wrong attitude were considered "enemies of the people" and anyone who didn't fully support Mao was purged as he asserted his absolute power.

In the recent workshop by Bambi Betts she talked about change in schools.  I was interested to hear about the different adopter styles and what percentage of employees, on average, fall into the various categories:

  • Innovators - about 8% of employees in an organization - these are people with positive attitudes towards change and who want to try out new ideas.
  • Early adopters - about 17% of employees - these are leaders in their profession - others in the organization watch what they are doing.
  • The early majority - about 29% of employees - these are not willing to change unless they can see success being modeled by others.
  • The late majority - also about 29% of employees - they wait and smile, but are resistant to change.
  • The late adopter - about 17% of employees - these are also known as resisters as they will not change no matter what.
It's interesting to think about this, not just in terms of the teachers in a school but also in terms of the administration.  What happens in a situation where there are a large number of innovators and early adopters among the teachers, but where the admin mostly falls into the late majority category?  What happens when the administration are innovators and early adopters, but the teachers are mostly the late majority?  In schools like this can there really be a cultural revolution, or instead are these schools experiencing something more akin to a Cultural Revolution?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Born to Learn

I'm always on the look out for resources that I can use with the IB Learner Profile and I think this video touches on many of them.  Here we see young people being inquirers and developing their natural curiosity, we see them becoming knowledgeable thinkers and communicators.  We see them developing open-mindedness as they are open to other perspectives and we discover why risk-taking is the essential feature of adolescence, as they pioneer new ways of thinking and being that ensure our survival.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thoughtful Learning

Last weekend at the SGIS Conference I attended a number of presentations by Art Costa and Graham Watts on how to make learning as full of thought as possible.  The first presentation I attended had 5 themes:
  • Learning to think:  encouraging students to be better and more flexible thinkers.
  • Thinking to learn:  there is no learning without thinking so we must invest our minds in what we are learning.
  • Thinking about thinking:  using metacognition, encouraging students to think about their learning.
  • Thinking together:  the need to collaborate to solve complex problems.
  • Thinking big and long range:  some of our students will still be alive in the 22nd century!
Art and Graham explained why we need a mind shift in thinking:  we need to shift from knowing the right answers, which were the skills and knowledge that were useful to build an economy, to knowing how to go beyond knowing and what to do when the answers are not immediately apparent.  They said "Students must not just be prepared for a life of tests, but also for the tests of life."

Learning to Think
Effective thinking requires us to consider the content of what we are teaching and the concepts.  You cannot separate thinking from conceptual knowledge.  We also need to think bout the type of thinking skills and habits of mind we want students to develop.  When considering the content and concepts they asked us to consider standards, essential questions, prior knowledge, understanding we want students to gain (and how we can know that they understand - for example can they apply, connect explain, demonstrate, interpret, empathize, ask more complex questions?)   Students need to learn to think through the content: powerful critical thinking and original creative thinking are the most challenging types of thinking.  Students often need direct instruction in thinking skills - we can't just assume they know how to analyze or evaluate or draw conclusions.  

Art and Graham said that in order for students to know how to use a particular thinking skill they first have to be able to recognize that skill and be able to use it when they describe the steps they are taking when making decisions and solving problems.  For example we can model the language we want them to use.  Instead of asking "what do you would would happen if ..." we can ask them "what do you speculate might happen ...".  Instead of asking "what did you think of this story", we can ask students "what conclusion might you draw ...."  Instead of asking "how can you explain ..." we can say "how does your hypothesis explain ..."

We need to give students rich cognitive tasks that demand skillful thinking.  We also need to give them a framework so that they can independently break down these complex tasks when solving the problems.

Lauren B. Resnick said "one's intelligence is the sum of one's habits of mind."  Habits of mind involve thinking flexibly and coming up with different options and solutions to problems by applying previous knowledge.  Art and Graham talked about 16 habits of mind that we can use when confronted with problems - for example persisting, listening, risk taking, gathering a lot of data before making a decision, communicating with clarity and precision.  These are transdisciplinary and are the skills that adults need as well s students as they focus on long-range, enduring learning.  Students should encounter these habits of mind repeatedly as they move from class to class so that they learn to apply these skills spontaneously when solving problems.

Thinking to Learn
Art and Graham quoted from Martin Heidegger:  "Learning is an engagement of the mind that transforms the mind."  They said we don't "get" ideas, we "make" ideas.  Students become more intelligent if we treat them as if they are already skillful problem solvers and ask them questions that challenge their thinking.  

Thinking about Thinking
Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of our own thought processes.  To encourage students to think about their thinking we can model this as teachers by thinking aloud to solve problems - verbalizing what is going on inside their heads is a great strategy for metacognition.  They said: "if you don't understand the process that produced the answer, you cannot reproduce the answer."  Therefore students should spend more time describing the strategies they have used to solve problems.

Thinking Together
Even though at schools we often value independent thinking, students know they benefit from working together.  Giving them opportunities to do this enlarges their conception from me to we.

Thinking Big and Long-Range
Art and Graham said "students will need to solve problems that haven't yet been created, using technologies that haven't yet been invented."  There are many eternal questions that need to be asked: what is fair and ethical, why is something good, what is truth, how might we unite and not divide.  Students will need to consider how to solve world problems in peaceful ways rather than resorting to violence.  They will need to be flexible thinkers and look for different alternatives when the people they are working with will be likely to have a range of beliefs, world views and cultures.  They need to be conscious of how what we do affects others - both those we can see and those on the other side of the world.  They will need to think interdependently with a wide global community and how to use and distribute the world's resources.

Finally Art and Graham ended with a quote from Alan Kay:  "The best way to predict the future is to invent it".  They talked about the fact that if we want a future that is more collaborative then we must invent it, be cause the future is in our classrooms today.

Photo Credit:  Thinker by Eileen Delhi AttributionNoncommercial 

Rattling the ideological framework

Last week while I was at the SGIS Conference, I discovered that another great opportunity for professional development was being offered by one of our local schools, ZIS.  This Innovate ZIS Think Tank was entitled Learning 2030:  Schools Out? and asked the question:  will schools as we know them be needed in 2030?  ZIS brought together an exciting collection of keynote speakers to address this question including Sir Ken Robinson, Erica McWilliam and Scott McLeod.  Peter Mott, the Director of ZIS, compared the changes sweeping through education to the way digital photography changed and eventually led to the bankruptcy of the Polaroid Corporation.  Technology allows access to information and knowledge anywhere and anytime, not just in schools.  Are schools now "dangerously irrelevant" asked Scott McLeod, are schools that are based on standardization and conformity doomed to fail, asked Sir Ken.

Thoughts from Sir Ken Robinson
Sir Ken talked about the fact that, though estimates vary, there have probably been about 80 billion people alive on Earth throughout history, and that considering that, about 10% of the entire human population that has ever lived is now alive on the planet.  He questioned how many people the world can sustain - obviously it depends on the amount of resources each person is consuming.    If everyone in the world consumed at the same rate as people living in North America, the world would only have enough resources to sustain 1.2 billion people.  Clearly, since we have billions more people on Earth today, this shows a massive inequality in the distribution of resources.  Sir Ken talked about the fact that we are connected and so have to rethink about and develop creative solutions to how we distribute resources.

He talked about the role of education in this.  He said there are three roles for education:  economic (more educated people contribute more to economic development, however education was developed to drive industrial development), culture (in our interconnected world it's vital to understand other cultures) and personal (education is a personal development, yet schools are increasingly trying to force students into a conforming, standardized mould).  Sir Ken said education should be based on diversity because we thrive on difference:  for economic, social and cultural growth we need to be different.

He talked about how education should encourage creativity and community and that it will be enhanced by technology because technology allows us to personalize education.  He said revolution is happening and it is starting with the students - all revolutions start at the bottom.  Some people are immovable, some are moveable and some move:  work with the willing.  The benefits outweigh the risks.  We may not be able predict the future but may be able to bring about a future that we want to live in.

Thoughts from Erica McWilliam
Professor Erica McWilliam talked about unlearning education - she said it is our knowledge that stops us taking risks not our ignorance.  She talked about how the key centuries for learning are the 19th and 21st centuries.  The 19th century gave us the disciplines and it also gave us travel - it allowed us to find diversity and there was a ruthless curiosity and a challenge to ideas.  People were willing to tolerate the discomfort in order to experience the unfamiliar.

However in the 21st century the traditional disciplines are insufficient for solving global problems.  Although our possibilities for travel have expanded, we travel looking for the familiar (she talked about how you have have the same hotel experience anywhere, how Australians travel looking for vegemite etc.)  She said that the virtual possibilities have democratized us as we use the internet - but asked are we still getting our views challenged?

Referring to the tradition of "salon" learning she said that the cafe, not the school, is the proper antecedent of lifelong learning.  People chose to go to the cafe to learn, salons validated impressionist art - they were places of powerful learning and knowledge production.  Schooling, however, is more important but less relevant than ever - employers are needing to look beyond the credentials because everyone is coming out of schools with the same qualifications - she said our highest achievers may not be our best learners and yet learning matters more than knowing as knowing gets increasingly overturned.  Better questions, therefore, are more important than correct answers.

She talked about distractibility being a boon to learning and not a mental illness - she said online work is an ecology of interruption - we can help young people to use that distractibility because effective pedagogy exploits the productive tension between intentionality and distractibility.  She challenged us to enter the world of "post-Gulliver" teaching.  We are no long a big person among the little people!

Photo Credit:  Gary Hamel:  Open source is one of the greatest management innovations of the 21st century by Opensourceway AttributionShare Alike 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

IT for EAL and Learning Support

Although most of my time is spent with homeroom teachers in the primary school, I try to give support to specialists too.  Recently I've led a couple of staff meetings where we have shown the German, PE and Music teachers different Web 2.0 tools that they may find useful to use with their students. I do less with Learning Support and EAL teachers, but I've been thinking about how technology can really help students in these areas.

When I was last at the BETT Show in London, there was a special area dedicated to supporting students with special needs.  In the past I managed to buy a typing programme there for a student with only one arm.  Nowadays I don't think I'd be looking for such a programme, since there are a lot of voice recognition technologies available.  Technology can be a tool to augment sensory input or reduce distractions and it can provide support for cognitive processing or enhancing memory and recall.  For many children who need learning support, technology can empower them and increase their independence and confidence, and so allow them to be successful in mainstream classes.

Many students in international schools are learning English, however at the same time teachers in international schools know it's important to maintain the home language as this also contributes to a student's success in learning English.   Depending on the country, it may not be very easy to get materials in the child's home language, but often technology can provide access to culturally and linguistically appropriate stories, games, music and activities in a child's mother tongue.  Technology can also allow students to practice speaking, listening, writing and reading and support students in their self-expression.

Another way we have used technology recently is to allow student to communicate with people in different countries (and their home countries) through Skype.  We've also used Google Translate to have students write what they want to say in their own language and then see how it is written in English.  In the past I've also been able to record students talking and then have another student who speaks the same language listen to what the student has said and translate it for the teacher.  In some cases, with beginning EAL students, this is the only way that they can really show their understanding.

Therefore although I feel I don't give a lot of direct assistance to teachers in the EAL and Learning Support departments, I have seen that technology can be valuable in helping them to effectively support the students they teach.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reading, Writing and Crunching the Numbers

Over the past few weeks we have been quad-blogging with our Grade 4 students as we are taking part in action research about the impact blogging can have on student writing.  At the start of this research we explained to students that blogging starts with reading - with reading blog posts that others have written, and then moves into commenting on those posts and finally writing their own posts and responding to comments they receive.  We are now in week 3 of the quad and the focus is on our students' posts.  This week we are asking students to reflect on the comments they are getting from the other members of the quad - students in Thailand, the Czech Republic and the USA.  Which posts get the most comments and why?  How could students increase the traffic to their posts by making them more interesting? What are they learning as a result of reading what other students are writing as comments?  Today I spent time with the Grade 4s who were blogging.  I asked some of them what they were doing in response to the comments they had received and this is what they said:

Mateo (responding to Adam from Team Thailand's comments) - "He said he liked the information on the cave biome, so I was persuaded to give him more information - I was inspired to give him more information - so I'm writing a post to give him more information on caves."

Nathan (responding to Ben from Team USA's comments) said:  "I like getting comments and they make me really proud of what I have done.  Sometimes I feel I could do better and I like getting comments that say I could do better because then it makes me try harder and I enjoy it."

Louise (responding to Zoe from Team USA's comments) said:  "I really liked how she gave me more details so that I can make it better next time ... she gave me lots of information about Jewish people because she is Jewish and she told me more things that they cannot eat and what they can and what they can't do."

As I was reflecting on this process last night, I was thinking about how reading other's posts and writing comments is also important to adult bloggers.  I also read section 90 of Seth Godin's Stop Stealing Dreams.   Seth writes:
Reading leads to more reading.  Writing leads to better writing.  Better writing leads to a bigger audience and more value creation.  And the process repeats.
Writing is the way our students are organizing their thoughts and connecting with others.  Seth Godin refers to writing as "organized, permanent talking, it is the brave way to express an idea."  When we write online we connect and spread our ideas to countless others too.  He tells us:
Teach a kid to write without fear and you have given her a powerful tool for the rest of her life.
But there is also a bigger picture.  We want our students to love both reading and writing.  We want them to continue reading and writing once they have left school:
Reading is the way we open doors.  If our economy and our culture grows based on the exchange of ideas and on the interactions of the informed, it fails when we stop reading.
Some time yesterday the readership of my blog passed the 150,000 mark.  I started to think about how this growth had occurred - was it just that I was writing more posts?  Was it that I was commenting on posts that I'd read and that those writers then became interested in reading my blog?  Was it that the people who found and liked my posts tweeted about them or shared them with colleagues they worked with?   It took 18 months from the start of the blog in December 2009 until it had been read by 50,000 people.  However the next 50,000 took only 6 months - from May 2011 until the end of November 2011.  Now, we are just mid-way through March 2012 and so it's taken just over 3 months to add another 50,000 readers.    I'm humbled by the number of people who read my ideas, who come back and read more and who think what I'm writing about is important enough to share with others.  I'm assuming that most of my readers are global educators and while some of those reading are people I've worked with or met face-to-face, most are those whose only connection with me has been by finding me online.  Yet what I know is that these people care a great deal about who I am and what I'm doing.  When I was thinking about moving to another school at the end of last year I was told by administrators who spoke to me that they were only hiring people who had a positive online presence - this is why they were interested in what I could offer to their school.  It's quite amazing to me that what I think and write about as a teacher in Switzerland, could bring me to the attention of some of the "giants" in international schools around the world.   Seth Godin alludes to this too when he writes about how "traditional" qualifications and testimonials are now less important in securing good jobs than what we are sharing:
In the post-industrial age of connection ... we care a great deal about what you've done ... because we can see whom you know and what they think of you ... see how you've used the leverage the Internet has given you, because we can see if you actually are able to lead and actually are able to solve interesting problems.
Photo Credit:  Blogging Research Wordle by Kristina B AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works